Those of us who have loved the Deep South and have lived in it (this writer has lived in both South Louisiana and in the Mississippi Delta) know what a tragedy it was when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico in April of 2010. “The Great Invisible” chronicles the event, and its subsequent effect, with an obvious and understandable agenda: The real victims are not only the 11 workers who died on the rig that night, but all of those grieving folks affected by the aftermath.
Director Margaret Brown has an eye for the working people, the ones who quietly go about their jobs every day with a minimum of pretentiousness and a maximum of easygoing competence. We begin with a home video tour of a real, working oil rig taken by the chief mechanic. There, we are able to see the control room, the cramped quarters, the heavy machinery, and we think we catch a glimpse of the kind of macho independence that perhaps contributed to the fiasco in the first place.
Yes, I know, we’re supposed to be angry at the big, faceless corporations, especially British Petroleum, who contracted out the daily operations and then stood by and did nothing while the safety procedures were overlooked, the personnel reduced, and the warning signs ignored. And yes, we all remember how BP at first stonewalled the media, then finally admitted some culpability and promised to help clean up the massive spill and to compensate those who suffered loss.
Ah, but making public assurances is easy, especially for slick, media-savvy CEOs. It’s the follow through that’s difficult. Director Brown, predictably, had no trouble locating some folks who feel that they’ve not been compensated enough and are still suffering from the trauma. There’s the “roustabout” who was actually flung from the explosion and managed to find the life raft, describing the horrible screaming all around him and the searing heat of the roaring fire, and remembering those who didn’t make it, especially those who just jumped from the burning platform into the dark chaotic deep.
And yes, predictably, there is no shortage of shrimpers who complain about the oil sludge still in the water. And of course there are the bereaved families of the deceased oil rig workers, who will readily argue that not enough is being done about safety. And there are plenty of people whose jobs were directly affected who claim they weren’t adequately compensated. But BP’s pre-emptive publicity ploy was to appoint a kind of corporate Santa Claus who came around giving gifts to people with damage claims, and then departing with a merry “Ho, Ho, Ho.” But the $1,000 or $1,200 or $1,500 the jobless reported receiving didn’t last very long. And now, because of the waiver they had to sign to take the money, they can’t sue for more. They’re stuck with their traumatic memories and traumatized psyches.
Today, offshore oil drilling is booming again in the Gulf of Mexico. And through the conversations of the oyster shuckers and the crabmeat carvers, precious seafood preparation jobs are available once again, but only the nimble and able need apply. As for the rest, well, there are always the church food pantries. And here’s where the real star of this show emerges: Roosevelt, a local with such a thick dialect that his conversation is captioned on screen. This man is a saint. He quietly cooks meals for the needy and even delivers the food to their rusted-out trailers and ramshackle abodes. And he does all this without being smug, patronizing or judgmental. I expect Roosevelt to be among the righteous who say to the King, “Lord, when did we see you… hungry and gave you food?”…And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25: 39-40).
RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.